The first Harry Potter book was released in 1997, though I didn’t start reading them until 2001. By that time, the first three books were already in paperback and the fourth was out in hardcover — it wouldn’t be released as a paperback for some time — which means I have a mismatched set of books, four of them hardcover, three in paperback. I can still remember the sense of wonder they filled me with form the very first words. That feeling never faded — and I’ve read the first six books three times, and the seventh twice. Sometime soon I’ll probably read them all again; it’s been a while.
It might seem a bit strange, with all the books out there and all the books on my reading list, that I would keep returning to the same series over and over. I’m not the only one, to be sure, but I think a lot of people went through them once and then left them on the shelf.
But you see, Harry Potter changed my life in ways that I can never repay. It’s more than nostalgia. It’s the best way I can honor what the series did for me.
Now, mind you, I know there are flaws and plot holes. When you look closely and look from an adult’s perspective, one who has a great deal of experience with reading and writing, you notice the problems. I don’t pretend the series is perfect and flawless. But it still means an awful lot to me.
Before I met Harry and his friends and found myself wrapped up in his world, I wasn’t very much interested in reading. I was in third grade, and a mere eight years old. Reading was, of course, part of the curriculum (this was before Common Core, remember), and I found myself at odds with the teacher for my less-than-stellar output with our independent reading charts. If I was reading at all, it was below my level.
I wonder what she’d think now, probably hundreds of books later.
And then, I found Harry Potter. I’m pretty sure I started reading it in my cousin’s basement, actually, though I’m not entirely certain — it was a long time ago and there was a lot going on that year. I’d lost a cousin in the attack on the Trade Center; had my first crush, who much to my chagrin moved to another state that December (Florida, maybe? Somewhere south, I think); and was learning multiplication (oh God, those damn speed tests still haunt me). So as important and influential as Harry Potter was for me, there are certainly some details I don’t remember. It was a busy year, and it was a long time ago.
I do know that I must have started in the early months of the school year, probably late September or sometime in October. Potter was something over which I’d bonded with the aforementioned crush, so I know that it had to be somewhere in that time frame.
Speaking of, if you’re a blonde twenty-something who spent the Fall of 2001 at a small Catholic grade school in suburban New York before moving out of state, know that you’re part of the reason I’m writing this today. Thanks for nerding out about Harry Potter with me for a few months!
At any rate, Harry Potter was what got me into reading — serious reading. Had it never existed, I frankly don’t know if you’d be reading all of my book review blog posts today (you are reading them, aren’t you?). It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to read, but I just didn’t care. Harry Potter taught me what kinds of experiences you could have from reading and cultivated a life-long love of reading that has only gotten stronger. I won’t pretend the series got me into writing — I’d already been writing crappy stories featuring my friends and me, as well as absolutely terrible Mary Sue fanfiction (well, I guess Gary Stu), long before I even knew what fanfiction was. But it was certainly one of my early influences as I grew as a writer and became more serious about the craft.
Harry Potter also taught me about copyright. That seems odd, I know, but it’s true. I thought I would write my own adventure with Rowling’s cast and it would be published — extremely lofty dreams for an eight year old, I’m well aware — which was when my father explained that such a thing was not possible because she owned the series. Honestly for a while I felt ashamed, like I had tried to steal something. I was also irrationally afraid that somehow Rowling would learn about the story I’d started to write and sue me for copyright infringement.
I’ve always had a pretty active imagination.
Actually that’s not entirely true, but we’re not here to talk about my pre-imagination years.
From that first page, I was utterly hooked — even the longest books only ever took me a few days to get through (though to be fair, I do remember staying up to 4 AM on more than one occasion, which probably helped). I went to midnight releases for all three of the final books — at least one of them in homemade Harry regalia (little did I know then that I was a Ravenclaw and not a Gryffindor). In between books, there were movies to keep the fire fueled — perfectly cast, in my mind, though I’ve often had issues with the aesthetic choices after the first two, as well as the adaptation choices (looking at you, Half-Blood Prince). For years, Potter was my leading obsession. Nothing else came close.
Of course there have been plenty of others since then, and ever some during the craze as well, but none ever had an impact as big as Potter. And sure, there are plenty of authors who have been far more influential to me, but Rowling was the first to show me what a book could — and should — be. I’ll never be an international sensation like her, but if I can write something that affects even one person half as much as Harry Potter affected me, then I’ll consider myself successful.
If someone asks me what my favorite book is, far too many come to mind; I freeze up, like a browser with too many tabs open. But my favorite series, now that’s easy — and should be obvious, given the post you’ve been reading. Nothing else has come close the magic — no pun intended (well, maybe a little) — of Harry Potter.
Don’t ask my favorite book, though, they’re all too good in their own ways for me to pick.
I’m sure there’s a certain level of nostalgia that tinges my view, but I’m not so sure that I’m overselling it. There’s a reason the books are still selling — I think they’ve done at least two new editions with different cover art (heresy, the originals were perfect). I imagine an insane number of people have already ordered Cursed Child already (including this fanboy right here), and it’ll likely sell out pretty quickly when it hits the shelves, despite that. I’m not sure if there’s ever been a bigger literary sensation. Even Stephen King is a fan. That’s high praise, I’d argue.
It’s impossible to deny the impact Harry Potter has had. It’s a universal phenomenon that brings together parents and children, and people of all ages in general. Hell, I started hanging out with last week’s guest author, Anushka, because I hadn’t seen A Very Potter Musical. I was given the choice to either “watch it now,” or “watch it now.” So we watched it. We spent that entire school year watching all sorts of nerdy things. That was almost four years ago now. So long-lasting friendship is another thing I can thank Harry Potter for. My father and I take a small plush Golden Snitch with us whenever we go on road trips — it’s with us in Florida as I type this — as our mascot. We found it in Pennsylvania, many years ago, probably around the height of the craze. So there’s another bond it formed. I read all of the books with my mother — well, the first four I read before her, and the next three we traded back and forth (actually I think we both had copies of Deathly Hallows). She read Dumbledore’s death before I did and without spoiling anything warned me I was going to cry.
Oh, spoiler alert there, I guess. Snape kills Dumbledore. Shit, should have tagged it earlier. Sorry.
Like I said, there’s a reason the series has remained so popular for almost twenty years, and I imagine will continue to remain popular — with Cursed Child coming out in a few days and the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie on the way (with a sequel already in the works), Potter-mania shows no signs of slowing down. It may have taken a break for a while, but it seems to be coming back with a vengeance.
Ironic, I suppose, to use “vengeance” in reference to a series dealing primarily with themes of friendship, unity, equality, and love, but, you know, if the shoe fits…
I guess at the end of it all, what I really want to say is thank you. To the series, to J.K. Rowling, to the cast and crew of the movies, thank you for changing my life.